Another change in Monastery land issue proposed
Another change in Monastery land issue proposed
CUMBERLAND - Mayor Daniel McKee, feeling targeted in recent weeks by a save-the-Monastery group that's suggested he has big plans for building on this open space, is proposing a plan to put all but 10 acres of the land under the control of an outside trust for the next 20 years.
The idea, he says, is to resolve residents' fears of "creeping" development of the Monastery Grounds by locking it up and handing the keys to an independent conservation group.
Except for the 10 acres where he proposes the safety building, he said, "the town wouldn't be able to touch the land during that period of time."
Currently, the much-touted Town Council's 2004 Monastery resolution and conservation management plan can be overturned by a simple Town Council vote, he noted.
Meanwhile, the Town Council meets tonight, July 31, to resolve a possible ballot question about putting the safety building on Monastery Grounds opposite the post office on Diamond Hill Road.
The special session begins at 7 p.m. in the Town Council Chamber.
Two weeks ago, councilors approved the referendum seeking $12.5 million for building the complex itself. That question doesn't name a site.
The separate site question was tabled as the clock reached 11:30 p.m. Residents were raising objections and Town Solicitor Tom Hefner was suggesting a series of changes.
This newest preservation twist sees McKee working with the Department of Environmental Management. It'll happen, he said, whether or not residents vote in favor of using Monastery land for the new police and rescue stations.
He wants the arrangement in place, he said, well before the November balloting.
"One is not subject to the other," he said.
The plan has the endorsement of one of the Monastery's most ardent defenders, Jeff Mutter, who was the council president in 2004 when his board adopted an ordinance and a conservation and management plan in an effort to ban any new recreational or government building on the 525 acres acquired by the town in 1968 and 1972.
"My position has evolved," Mutter told The Breeze this week.
"If that's the absolutely best place for a public safety complex, what right do I have to say it can't go there?" he asked.
McKee, who was mayor when the Monastery management plan was adopted in 2004, says now, "I'm happy to partner with Jeff to put the heavier restriction on the Monastery today."
But he did add, "There's a value in using an asset strategically when it's in the best interest of the town as when we did with the library (expansion). I think people are happy with what we did there. If it's done right, people will sit back and say that was an improvement the town can be proud of."
Mutter said he still wants assurance that from a financial and safety point of view, there's no better location.
But he also concedes the 2004 legislation "has no teeth if the council decides to amend it."
Town officials have admitted they don't have a good alternative site for the complex, eliminating for various reasons the National Grid property, the Ashton fire and rescue site, and the Drop Zone properties, all off Mendon Road, as well as town land on Angell Road near Lippitt Estates.
McKee first started talking about a new public safety complex, or building as he now calls it, in 2012 when an outside consultant studying consolidation of the fire districts recommended the overdue replacement of the police station and rescue headquarters.
The plan was eventually pegged at $12.5 million and General Assembly members OK'd it for Cumberland's November ballot in June, but not without first raising questions about the location.
In an effort to maximize local support, McKee proposed a second ballot question that named the Monastery site, thereby allowing voters to say yes to the public safety building but no to using the Monastery location.
That brought college student Alexandra Curran to the July 16 council meeting, where she raised pointed questions about why only the Monastery site is offered residents.
She followed up with creation of the Monastery Preservation Alliance, an organization that drew some 140 residents to a meeting in the old Monastery chapel room.
Town Council members are considering this ballot question at tonight's special meeting:
Shall the Cumberland Town Council authorize construction of a public safety building on town-owned land located on Diamond Hill Road across from the U.S. Post Office which is a portion of Assessor's Plat 22, Lot 8, not to exceed 10 acres. Said building to be built in an area north of the power lines, which begin at Lynch Park, with the town continuing to preserve the remaining 515 acres of land otherwise known as the Monastery?